Why COVID-19 will mark the tipping point for AI

By Valerie Perhirin, Managing Director, Capgemini
Valerie Perhirin, Managing Director, Insight-Driven Enterprise, Capgemini Invent discusses the impact of COVID-19 for AI technology...

The World Bank recently predicted that the global economy could shrink by more than 5% this year due to COVID-19. This recession will leave its mark on many companies, but, as in previous downturns, it will also provide opportunities to innovate. 

Against the harsh economic backdrop, we are likely to see the pandemic act as a catalyst for AI to drive return on investment (ROI) in business recovery plans and enable organizations to reconsider what they can do to re-imagine the consumer experience in a post-COVID-world. 

Already, there is a general acknowledgement that we cannot go back to business as usual and that organizations will need to look for more radical ways of operating to recover and rebound.

Pre-pandemic, many organizations were just starting to apply AI at scale. Now, they are looking for new ways to utilize this technology to adapt and re-invent themselves. This includes everything from automatic robotic processing of transactions to intelligent automation (using digital technology to repeat cognitive processes), and from assisted intelligence (designing a machine judgement system to answer a specific data challenge) to sentient AI.  

AI: a recovery enabler

Organizations generally understand the potential of AI, but implementations have been fragmented, just scratching the surface of what is possible. The pandemic represents a pivotal moment, testing AI’s ability to handle extreme events while providing practical solutions to the many unprecedented operational challenges businesses now face, whether it’s in sales, marketing or backend IT. For example, in drug discovery, healthcare delivery and telemedicine, the use of data and AI has been hugely advanced through the forced digital transformation that COVID-19 has caused. AI has made it possible to push data models to the limit, so it’s a no-brainer for hospitals, public sector organizations, transport operators and others to continue embracing data-driven transformation to prepare for future scenarios, while managing current operations more effectively. As businesses look to restart and rebuild, they need to think of AI as a critical business recovery enabler.

In this new environment, consumer needs will be very different, and to fulfil their demands seamlessly digital investments must evolve. Traditional models based on vast amounts of data will need to adapt to find new approaches that aren’t defined by historical data. AI has an essential role to play here - to learn about the existing ecosystem and to improve business operations in real time. Part of what’s held enterprises back is a lack of flexibility and an inability to move quickly, but with AI, businesses can increase their agility and deliver at pace and scale. 

AI and people – why we need each other

During the pandemic technology has brought people closer together, allowing us to stay in contact with family and friends while remaining socially distant and safe. We have built a relationship with the technology on which we now rely every day.

Similarly, in the case of AI, we benefit as it enables us to make faster and delegated business decisions. However, this relationship is symbiotic, because AI learns from people too. It may be able to accrue a huge bank of knowledge and understanding and, in the future, even apply it effectively and independently. But, it cannot do this on its own all the time, and often its remorseless logic isn’t applicable to the diverse and real-world situations of business operations. 

Many of the outcomes from using AI are operational and almost immediate, providing measurable insights in terms of time and money. One further advantage of the human augmentation that AI makes possible is less tangible and more creative. When people grow accustomed to the extra bandwidth of performance that AI enables, they can be inspired to decide how else they might take strategic advantage of it. 

The world around us is consistently changing and we need our services to adapt to this – AI enables businesses to do this at scale. One major aspect to getting AI right is building trust around the algorithm and demonstrating this to customers; AI will only benefit us if it is intricately tied to human connection.

Ethically advanced AI

Few organizations truly understand the people, skills or leadership changes required to benefit from AI in the long term, and even fewer recognize the positive impact this shift can bring. As a result, very few are succeeding at scaling AI and there is growing mistrust around how businesses are using it ethically.  

As enterprises look to incorporate AI permanently into their strategies, they must be prepared to use it responsibly and assuage concerns about surveillance and monitoring. Organizations will consistently find themselves under scrutiny to not merely comply with regulations but to go above and beyond by actively putting in place a strategy and code of conduct for AI’s ethical use. Our research shows that 62% of consumers would place higher trust in a company whose AI interactions they perceived as ethical, with a further 61% saying they would share positive experiences with friends and family.

Businesses must be confident that technology helps them to operate with integrity, ensure fairness through decision making, and above all, maintain people’s privacy. By addressing these issues upfront, organizations stand to gain additional benefits while avoiding regulatory, legal and financial risks that may result from a market or public backlash on AI. Using this technology for responsible, positive purposes is not only a way to improve the general mindset about the ethical use of AI, but it provides an engaging and safe training ground for a higher-level experience of AI in the first place. 

The COVID-19 crisis has been a catalyst for the prospect that with true, delegated decision-making AI can finally come of age. We’re at a point of both maximum disruption and maximum innovation. Now is the time to unleash the power of AI as together we respond, rebuild, recover, and rebound from the impact of the pandemic. 

For more information on business topics in Europe, Middle East and Africa please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief EMEA.

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